Bridging the gap
AIA Rochester is working on its community outreach—through a bizarre, brilliant, and interactive competition designed for everyone.
PO Box 92336
Despite its 100 years of existence, you might be unfamiliar with Rochester’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects. You wouldn’t be alone. “There seems to be a gap between the community’s understanding of what architects do,” says AIA Rochester member Max Akulin, “and the actual value of what we bring to the table. We intend to change that.” In honor of the AIA’s centennial anniversary, Akulin and his colleagues have organized a three-month-long event in Midtown Commons. In the form of a design/ build competition, the area will feature seven innovative constructions by teams of local architects from Bergmann, CPL, Edge, Hamilton Stern, LaBella, and SEI.
The heart of the competition is to design a new perspective on the signature gabled house. Each team was given a set of volumetric constraints as well as one-foot-tall identical plinths, which Akulin describes as “a fancy architecture word for platform.” One extra key requirement, however, makes this a very special design/build competition. “Each entry needs an interactive component,” Akulin says. “It originated as taking the form of the gabled house. We wanted something iconic that everyone can relate to, but we realized that alone was too broad for too little impact.”
The addition of interactive criteria serves on multiple levels. It gives architects more creative impetus and acts as a metaphor for exactly what Rochester AIA is trying to accomplish—creating a conversation with the community. A conversation, according to Akulin, that’s greatly needed. “People come up to us and say ‘your job looks so easy. All you do is design buildings and draw pretty pictures,’” he says, “Whereas if the community really knew what we did, they would realize that’s only one to ten percent of our job. The other ninety percent is very tedious, code-driven, legal aspects of architecture and understanding how that affects living environment.” Fed up with media representations like How I Met Your Mother’s Ted Mosby, Akulin says architects take their work very seriously, just like doctors or lawyers. “Because at the end of the day,” he says, “we are responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the inhabitants of buildings and public spaces.”
Akulin hopes this initiative will update the public’s perception of Rochester’s architectural community. “My intention was to catalyze change,” he emphasizes, and says that a younger generation of architects are taking the reins from the industry’s retiring veterans. “Not only do we need a creative outlet,” says Akulin, who is thirty-two, “we need to feel like we’re part of something bigger. And I believe AIA Rochester’s value to the community is to encourage that type of creativity—to provide that outlet.”
The entries, according to Akulin: Boundary/Shelter is created using historic literature to describe the dichotomy of boundaries and shelter. This team used two gable-shaped roof structures, put them on their side, and then mounted it to this plinth to create the form of…it looks like a pentagon but it’s also just a gabled roof. It has a slit down the middle at the roofline to allow natural light to enter to the center of the piece, and along the sides of these steel roofs that are flipped on their sides, are quotes and poems etched into the steel. Excerpts from literature and pieces of art. It’s quite beautiful when you look at the different ideas thatwere captured. But of the two pieces, one is geared toward boundaries, and the other, shelter.
Ghost Gable is pretty fascinating in that it was designed so that you didn’t have any idea of what it was or what it does. Or how you’re supposed to interact with it. It encourages the viewer to curiously walk around it and see it from all angles. It’s designed using polycarbonate slats that are stacked and equally spaced, so when you look at it from all the angles, it just looks like a red cube in its general massing. But as you walk around, you see that from solid side to seeing all the slats stacked up facing you, you see the shape of something that might catch your eye. And creates that awe-inspiring moment of “Whoa! That’s what that is? It’s so smart!” And you never would have guessed it before seeing it from that particular vantage.
The Gabled House, Deconstructed This team cleverly used very common building elements to create the inverse of the four corners of a house, while still maintaining the overall shape of a gabled roof. So if you look at the outside of a house, it’s a box and you have four outside corners and a gabled roof. They decided to chop it into quarters and rotate each quarter 180 degrees, so the outside corners are now all touching each other, creating a cruciform. So you can see the inside corner now, of a structure, using all the building materials, from concrete block to brick to aluminum to plastic or glass to asphalt shingles.
Deposit/Better Your Bottle This team thought of using a common material that we recycle—bottles—for the purpose of generating a cache for this currency. Using bungee cords tied in a matrix within the frame that looks like a gabled house, they created a netting or holding place for these bottles to showcase an image using the colors of the bottles, but also providing an opportunity for [viewers] to take and leave bottles. Kind of like “take a penny leave a penny” in a bodega or a corner store. Pretty clever. Highly interactive. It allows people to really utilize it for what they need. The design team has proposed that they will, every week, come back with a new cache of bottles and create a new design within this matrix for people to observe, take, and put back if they want or modify as they see fit.
Chromatic, strangely enough, has nothing to do with color. It has everything to do with sound. This team has essentially created a space for you to isolate yourself from the sounds of the city, while also providing you a network of auditory conduits to pick up isolated sounds from your nearby surroundings. While you sit in the open air, your ears collect sound from all around you. In this construction, your ears will collect sound from individual straws, so to speak, that collect sound from a particular point outside and feed it to you. So it’s a network of straws that radiate from the central point that you put your head in.
Under Wraps This team designed an A-Frame roof that is made of materials that you would otherwise not find on an a-frame roof. An A-frame roof is typically found in a colder climate with a lot of snow. It has a very steep roof pitch so that snow doesn’t collect on it, essentially. And what you would normally find in an A-frame roof is wood rafters tied together. But this team decided to use the opposite, very heavy materials like wood timber, concrete, steel joists, all to come together to create a small version of an A frame roof. And set within some of the heavy timber are copper extrusions that take the shape of different roof types over the years—gambrel roof, hip roof, gabled roof, shed roofs, and A-frame roof.
“Little Lending Library/LÑ” is a modern variation of the Little Lending Libraries we see scattered throughout Rochester’s residential neighborhoods. Polycarbonate panels create the walls, affording a subtle transparency to pique the viewer’s gaze towards the knowledge within. A sort of metaphor for the hidden wisdom we can find if we just take the time to look at things more carefully. It acts, simply, as a curated collection of books to be used, taken, and left by the public, for the public
John Ernst is a lifelong Rochesterian and (585)’s editor-at-large. You can see more of his work at johnmwrites.com.